Classroom Resources: The Mushroom Messiah

Mushroom Messiah

By John Weier

January-March 2009 / Vol. 10 No. 1

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Discussion Questions

1. Why are old growth forests so important for understanding the services provided by fungi? Why does Paul Stamets say “We can make the argument that we should save old growth forests as a matter of national defense”? What diseases might mushrooms like Agarikons help to prevent?

2. What ecological processes do fungi engage in that make them a good candidate for use in consuming toxic waste such as petroleum spills? What do you think soils would be like without fungi? What policy barriers are there to “mycorestoration”? Do you think it would be a good idea for the government to give it a new try? Why or why not?

3. The article portrays Paul Stamets as a contrarian, a private entrepreneur, an inventor, and a scientist of sorts. Why all of these characterizations? What makes Stamets different from an academic or government scientist? Why was this article written? What is the role of privately funded research in conservation?

4. How did Stamets use the sensory limitations of ants to design a fungal system to control ants? What did the Texas A&M professor point out as weaknesses of Stamets’ approach? What kind of research would you design to address Dr. Gold’s concerns?

5. What is the “life box”? How do fungal mycelia fit into the plan to mitigate climate change using these cardboard panels? Would you plant one? Are there any risks to spreading these seeds and spores around that you might envision?

6. Do you know of any visionaries, similar to Stamets, who have changed the course of society? What motivates or influences visionaries? What makes them successful? What role has science played in Stamets’ vision?

Websites for Further Information

Fungi.com – the website for Paul Stamets’ business Fungi Perfecti LLC including mushroom kits, plug spawn and other intriguing products
Urban Entomology – website of university professor Roger Gold

Fungi in the News

How mushrooms will save the world (Salon.com, November 25, 2002)
Fungus lessens serious grapefruit-drug reaction (ScienceDaily, February 5, 2009)
Out on a limb: Global warming may be killing old-growth forests (Scientific American, January 22, 2009)

Peer-reviewed Literature (in addition to the citations listed in the article)

• Maser, C., J.M. Trappe, and R.A. Nussbaum. 1978. Fungal-small mammal interrelationships with emphasis on Oregon coniferous forests. Ecology 59: 799-809.
• Komonen, A., R. Penttila, M. Lindgren, and I. Hanski. 2000. Forest fragementation truncates a food chain based on an old-growth forest bracket fungus. Oikos 90: 119-126.

Key Concepts

• Fungal-soil relationships
• Bioremediation of toxic spills
• Privately-funded research

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